Though I was there to be on a bunch of panels at Grinnell College, parents weekend there necessitated I spend my nights in the neighboring town of Newton, Iowa. Newton has a population of about 15,000 and it is known for being the former home of Maytag Appliances, the present home of the Maytag Dairy (and its Maytag blue cheese) and for being where Rocky Marciano’s plane went down. Perhaps more importantly for some, it also has a gorgeous Maid-Rite.
I arrived fairly late to Newton and this being the heart of the Midwest and me not eating meat, my dining choices were looking pretty limited. Out of an overabundance of a lack of caution, I decided to eat at the Chinese restaurant in town. Though American-Chinese cuisine, it was shockingly decent.
I got to the restaurant about twenty minutes before its 9:00 p.m. closing, which meant I got to watch that Chinese restaurant staple of the restaurant workers eating their own dinner together at a large table. What surprised me (maybe it should not have) was that every single employee was Chinese (or at least appeared to be). As I paid my bill, I asked the cashier/apparent owner, from where she came. She seemed to hesitate just a bit and then said “China.” Where in China, I asked, just about certain she would say Fujian. She did.
I am fascinated by America’s small towns. I am in awe of how so many of them seem both to stay the same and to change. At one time, just about every U.S. town between 15,000 and 25,000 had a general store/department store/clothing store/furniture store owned by Jewish immigrants, whose sons and daughters have mostly moved on to bigger cities. I know at least two lawyers in Seattle who fit that bill. Now it seems those U.S. towns all have one or two Chinese restaurants run by immigrants from Fujian. Who are these Chinese immigrants? Do they go straight to these small towns or start in New York or Los Angeles and then move later? Do they plan to stay in these towns, move elsewhere in the United States or return to China? What is it like being one of damn few Chinese or even Asians in these places?
Many many years ago, I represented an Asian (I am being intentionally vague here) family whose son had been expelled from a small town’s school system for having damaged a teacher’s property. The parents had hired my firm to get their kid exonerated and back into school. They had hired my law firm because we had lawyers who spoke their language. The parents had a very successful business, consisting of two stores, and near as I could tell they were the only Asians in the town. They were short in stature and everything about their physical appearance spoke to the country from which they had come and not the town in which they were living. Their high school age son was nearly six feet tall, wore baggy jeans and a Raiders jersey and he looked like any “cool” kid from a big city American high school.
The son told me the story of his innocence in front of his parents. But I wasn’t buying a bit of it.
I arranged to meet with the son separately and I essentially told him that if he was truly innocent, I would be happy to have his parents bleed out his college fund for his defense. I then looked him straight in the eye and made very clear that he would be wasting his parents’ hard-earned money if the school system really did have so many witnesses of him committing the act. I told him that if he did it, he needed to come clean with me so I could work with the school system to get his expulsion revoked in favor of a less harsh sentence. I knew from my conversations with key people with the school that we had a very good chance of this because they too wanted to avoid costly litigation. During our various conversations, the son told me that he loved his parents (I really liked them too), of how his parents had come to the United States for him and that he did not want to let them down nor did he want them to spend so much money on his defense because he had in fact done the deed for which he had been expelled.
He also poured forth with how difficult it was being the only Asian at his school. His school had “Americans” and “Hispanics” (his language, not mine) and nobody, including him, was sure in which group he fit. He said he had done this bad act to fit in (my language, not his).
I explained all this to the school people, got the expulsion reduced to time already served by way of a suspension. I ended up really liking the kid and I “felt his pain” as a kid without any natural peer group.
For a long time, Maytag Appliance was one of the leading (the leading) employers in Newton. It and its thousands of jobs are gone now and its quite large, quite nice office building has a “For Sale or Lease” sign out front. Maytag was purchased by Whirlpool and its Newton operations (both manufacturing and corporate) moved elsewhere. How much of that was due to China? How much of that do Newtonians pin on China? Does anyone blame the local Chinese (I sure hope not!)? On the flip side, I kept hearing of how the price of farmland in Iowa is at record highs and how the price of pork is doing just fine as well. I am sure China plays some role in this and I wonder if or how this is considered.
Are there studies or surveys or articles on any of this?
What do you know?